It’s true: One in two French people are actually happy

Numerous studies in the past have suggested that the French are a morose bunch who suffer from "collective depression". But in fact, one in two of them consider themselves to be "happy", according to new figures.

It's true: One in two French people are actually happy
Photo: AFP
Considering the standard of living and general quality of life available in France, the country regularly scores badly on happiness rankings. 
But according to new results from a recent poll carried out by polling institute BVA-Gallup for Le Point, which shows that one in two French people consider themselves to be “happy”, perhaps they're starting to feel a little bit more positive about life.
And while the results only show a small upwards shift (one point) on 2016, it marks the first time since 2013 that 50 percent of French people consider themselves to be “happy”. 
Indeed, eight percent of respondents said they were “very happy” while 42 percent opted for “happy”.
This compares to 42 percent who said they were “neither happy nor unhappy”, 6 percent who said unhappy and 1 percent who did not respond (see below). 
Graph: Le Point
The French are also more confident in the future, in total, 26 percent of respondents believed that 2018 would be better than 2017. 
Both the happiest and the most confident about the future were those aged 18-24 and those in stable life situations, including executives, people living in couples and those working full-time. 
Photo: AFP
The poll also showed that the French have more and more confidence in the economy, with just 33 percent of people fearing economic difficulties in the future compared to 47 percent last year and 59 percent in 2013. 
However despite the shift, when compared to other countries around the world the French are a long way from being the happiest. 
The study which covers 57 countries shows that Fijians are the happiest in the world (94 percent), followed by Colombians (89 percent) and the Philippines (86 percent). 
In fact, France comes in at a measly 41st place between Brazil and Italy and nine percentage points below the world average of 59 percent.
At the bottom of the list are Azerbaijan (42 percent), Greece (41 percent), Iraq (34 percent), Iran (33 percent) and Ukraine (26 percent).
And the same goes for confidence in the future, with France coming 46th place, just behind Armenia. 
But while that may not sound too positive, just three years ago France was in the penultimate place so that's certainly something to smile about. 

Why schools are to blame for the French being so glum

Photo: AFP


Why mastering English would help make the French less gloomy

The French are often accused of being more miserable than their high standard of living warrants - a view backed up by numerous surveys. French academic Claudia Senik from the Paris School of Economics tells The Local why.

Why mastering English would help make the French less gloomy
Photo: Joze Gonzalez/Flickr

A BVA-Gallup International survey in 2011 found that despite their relatively high standard of living, the French were the most pessimistic people in the world. So, in a country where they have a 35-hour working week, lengthy summer holidays, wholesome cuisine, great wine and a fantastic countryside, why are the French people so down on themselves?

On 2013 Professor Claudia Senik from the Paris School of Economics presented a report to the Royal Economic Society in London on the reasons why, based on her study of the European Social Survey.

Here Senik tells The Local why France's own culture and education system are partly to blame for the French being less cheery than their worse-off European neighbours, and how speaking better English would help them get back their joie de vivre.

School is to blame

Professor Claudia Senik: “I think the role of the primary school system in France is partly to blame. If unhappiness is partly due to someone's mentality, then people are forming that negative mentality at an early age in primary schools.

“One theory is that the grading system in French schools is responsible. In France, students are generally graded on a scale of 0 to 10 or 0 to 20 and it’s very difficult to get high grades. This means the majority of pupils are used to getting bad grades. When they think about their self-worth or their value, they think about these grades, which are usually low or intermediate.

“This view becomes ingrained since childhood, so they become dissatisfied with themselves.

“It is well documented that, in the United States for instance, children have a much more positive view of themselves, where school is more geared towards building self-confidence. This is not the case in France. In Nordic countries, too, pupils are not graded as much and the grades are much easier to achieve.

“To improve the happiness of French people the schooling system needs changing. It is too strict, and in primary school the children will do French, History and Maths but then only one hour of drawing and two of hours of gym a week. That’s ridiculous. It needs to be more multi-dimensional.

“I was amazed at the importance of sport in the American school system, but in France you really have to be a pure intellectual if you want to be happy at school.

“There are of course positive aspects to the French education system. They are very good academically, but not necessarily for making the kids happy.”

Lost grandeur of the French empire

“In life you always compare your position in reference to some benchmark, and in France this is the grandeur of the old Francophone empire and the influence that France used to have in the world.

“Painters and writers used to come to France to make a career but that’s not the case anymore. People may not always be conscious of this, but they are feeling it. It’s a feeling of decline in terms of international influence. Many countries in Europe are experiencing this decline but the French feel it more than others.

“What makes it worse is that the French also don’t really appreciate the new world, either. There’s something deep in French ideology that makes them dislike market-based globalization (supply and demand, competition, and so on.)”

The French need to learn English to be happier

“To be happier the French could do with learning more foreign languages. Of course, Anglophone countries are worse, but that doesn’t matter because everyone speaks English. Being happy is not about speaking the foreign language itself, but about being able to fit more easily into this globalized world, which you can do if you speak English.

“Travel will also help the French, because if you always stay in one country then that becomes your benchmark. Many French people would benefit from seeing what the situation is like in other countries.”

Professor Claudia Senik

This article was originally published in February 2013